2013 TOP 25 SONGS – Volume 2

This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com

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We continue to roll our our Top 25 Songs, chosen by our wonderful celebrity guest judges (read more about that here).  Here are this week’s five songs.

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Gonna Spend the Whole Day Fishing

Music: Frederick Freyer
Lyrics: Pat Cook
Patrick Cook & Frederick Freyer
Patrick Cook & Frederick Freyer

Tell us about your song.  If it’s from a musical, set the song up for us.

“Gonna Spend the Whole Day Fishin’” is one of the earliest songs written by Pat and me.  We had met in the First Year Class of the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop (a class that we now teach) and for our Second Year project we chose Toots in Solitude, a sweet, funny novel by John Yount.  In the story, the main character is a tired, ordinary, middle-aged salesman at a Nashville car dealership who abruptly decides that he’s going to leave everything and go live alone in a treehouse in the woods.  This song happens a moment after he’s made this decision.

What are you most proud of with this song?

I like the rhythmic feel of the melody.  We wanted the song to evoke the sound of banjo picking without being a direct imitation, and I think we got it — I feel like it works for the character and the new energy he’s suddenly infused with in this moment of celebration.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

I recall it being a bear for Pat to write the words, which had to follow a somewhat unusual scan in the music and be singable and clear at a fast pace.  I love how vivid the words are.

What else would you like us to know about this song?

I seem to regularly write piano accompaniments that are just beyond what I’m able to play, and that’s particularly true with this song, which has a heck of a lot going on in the accompaniment.  When we were recording it with Brian d’Arcy James singing it for Jeff Blumenkrantz’s excellent podcast series about writers in the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, I was terrified of having to play it live, and it’s not the kind of song you can punch in if you mess up.  I probably should have hired another pianist, but I got through it okay!  It is fun to play once you get it down.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

What excites both Pat and me is what’s going on in the BMI Musical Theatre Workshop, where exceedingly talented writers meet to discuss craft and to supportively critique each others’ work.  The Workshop is about learning to write book songs that are particular to the character and the story, while also saying something larger.  There are a lot of musicals in which songs are broad-stroke, generic ideas, and there are a lot of musicals where the songs are rambling, close-up, confessional narratives — the holy grail is in between those two notions, where the song is specific to the character and the moment while at the same time expressing a universal sentiment, with subtlety and wit and sophistication.  (It’s not easy.)

What do you find to be most challenging about this business?

Most challenging?  The fact that it’s so much a “business”!  There’s an expectation in today’s world that writers, people who often tend toward introversion and nuance and hesitation, will somehow turn themselves into assertive self-marketers.  It’s not a natural state for many composers and lyricists.

What are you currently working on?

We’ve been revising Seance, the musical we’ve been writing about the accidental invention of Spiritualism by the Fox sisters in upstate New York in the 1840s.  And we’ve been finishing 97 Orchard Street, an adaptation of stories by Abraham Cahan, who chronicled immigrant life in the 1890s on the Lower East Side.

How can we keep track of what you’re up to?

If you’re in the BMI Workshop, come up to me or Pat and ask how we’re doing.  If you’re not, read Variety (and please let me know if you see anything about us in there).  And feel free to write to us at BMI.Musical.Theatre.Workshop@gmail.com!

Listen to the song here.  For more information about the song, click here.

Highway Miles

Music & Lyrics: Peter Mills

Peter Mills
Peter Mills

Tell us about your song.  If it’s from a musical, set the song up for us.

“Highway Miles” is from my musical, The Flood. It’s the summer of 1993 and 17-year-old Raleigh Keller is working in his father’s general store in the small town of Meyerville, Illinois.  Raleigh’s father, also the town’s mayor, is forever trying to imbue his son with a sense of his heritage—telling Raleigh how his great-great-grandfather was one of the original settlers of Meyerville and started the store… which he will one day inherit.  Raleigh doesn’t pay too much attention to his father, but works diligently, saving up his money—and making his own plans for his life.

What are you most proud of with this song?

This was a song that I co-wrote with Cara Reichel.  Specifically, she came up with most of the free-wheeling intro, and then I wrote most of the more conventionally structured “main tune.”  I am proud of how well that collaboration worked out, resulting in a song that seems to hang together and sounds like a single, consistent voice.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

I remember struggling with the end of the bridge a bit, because I seemed to be coming out of it in the wrong key.  Eventually I decided that could be an interesting feature of the song.  And so, the final chorus of the song sits a fourth higher than the earlier choruses.

What else would you like us to know about this song?

Gavin Creel sang this song in the original production, way back when.  And he’s a big part of why this song got out there in the world a little bit.  I’m very grateful for that.

How can we keep track of what you’re up to?

My website is www.pcmills.com.

For more information about the song, click here.

Hittin’ the Road

Music: Russell Kaplan
Lyrics: Sara Wordsworth
Russ Kaplan
Russ Kaplan
Sara Wordsworth
Sara Wordsworth

Tell us about your song. If it’s from a musical, set the song up for us.

This is the second song in The Do-Over, which we just started writing with playwright Daniel John Kelley.  It’s 1997, and Bethany Clearwater is a young single mom who’s just moved — along with her “misunderstood” teenage daughter Belinda — to the small industrial town of Big Lake, Minnesota.  Belinda has been court-ordered to complete one year at Big Lake Tertiary High School or she’ll go to jail.  But on the morning of her first day of school, Belinda has other plans…

Belinda’s a punk-rocker, so try to imagine this song with pounding drums and a big wall of guitar.

Did you write it for anyone in mind?

A young Pat Benatar.

What are you most proud of with this song?

It’s tough to write an effective theatre song that really rocks and that you could plausibly imagine as a radio single.  It’s also tough to write a rock song that really works dramatically… that tells a story clearly and is really actable for the performer.  We think we hit a pretty good balance with this one.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

Belinda just doesn’t give a shit about anything.  She’s way more rebellious than either of us were as teens, and it was a challenge – but a really fun one – to go outside our own experiences and write from her perspective.

What else would you like us to know about this song?

Russ would really like Sleatter-Kinney to reunite so they can perform it.  If anyone reading this knows them, please have them contact us.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

This is just a really great creative time in musical theatre.  Writers are really trying new things, but with a really strong awareness and respect (though not over-reverence) for the past.  It’s like we’ve finally hit this period where it’s finally not about either clinging to or destroying tradition…it’s just about creating something that’s GOOD and will hopefully stand the test of time.

What do you find to be most challenging about this business?

There’s a lot of waiting…you gotta be diligent but when things don’t happen instantly you have to not let it phase you, because there is ALWAYS a hold-up.  You also have to learn when to listen to others’ input and when to listen to your gut.

What are you currently working on?

Other than The Do-Over, we have a new family musical called Dear Albert Einstein coming out in April 2014, commissioned by the company Making Books Sing.  We’re also working on getting In Transit back on stage, so if that happens there’ll probably be significant changes from the 2010 Off-Broadway version (don’t worry, it’ll still be a cappella).

How can we keep track of what you’re up to?

Visit us at our Facebook page.

For more information on this song, click here.

I Can’t Walk On

Music & Lyrics: Jenny Giering
Jenny Giering, Music
Jenny Giering, Music

Tell us about your song.  If it’s from a musical, set the song up for us.

It’s a standalone song. I wrote it for my then boyfriend now husband and collaborator Sean Barry when we were first dating.

What are you most proud of with this song?

I think I’m most proud of the fact that it’s now mostly sung by men.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

The most difficult thing about writing this song was trying to capture, in a poetic way, the simultaneous joy and panic of following in love with the person who I knew would be the soulmate for the rest of my life.

What else would you like us to know about this song?

The song is always been deeply personal, and I had no idea it would ever have a life beyond me and Sean until Randy Redd recorded it. It’s such an imagistic song and I never thought anyone would respond to it emotionally. I’m so happy that I’m wrong and that so many performers choose to sing it now.

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

I am continually excited by contemporary musical theater artists who are pushing the form in subject matter, structure, and style. The form is capable of so much more than we ask it to do. I am excited by the musical theater artists who are living at the edges.

What do you find to be most challenging about this business?

That every show has a completely different trajectory, and that you have to find the trajectory a new every time you write a piece.

What are you currently working on?

I’m working on a piece called Alice Bliss for Playwrights Horizons with Adam Gwon and Laura Harrington. I’m also writing a commission for Chicago Shakespeare Theater called Summerland with Laura Eason and Sean Barry, my husband. Finally, I’m working on an incidental score for Lauren Gunderson’s play Silent Sky at TheatreWorks/Palo Alto.

How can we keep track of what you’re up to?

Www.JennyGiering.com.

For more information on the song, click here.

I Don’t Know My Heart

Music & Lyrics: Lawrence Rush
Lawrence Rush
Lawrence Rush

Tell us about your song. If it’s from a musical, set the song up for us.

“I Don’t Know My Heart”, from Pride & Prejudice – The Musical, is a song of self discovery, sung by the leading character, Elizabeth Bennett. It occurs in the middle of Act 2 after Elizabeth not only realizes that she had jumped to conclusions and misjudged Mr. Darcy, but had refused his offer of marriage in about as mean a way as one could, even though his proposal came off more offensive and pompous than he probably realized. This is the pivotal song for Elizabeth. Up til now, she’s believed herself the only one with insight into everyone’s character and this is the moment when she learns how wrong she was about Mr. Darcy and herself.

What are you most proud of with this song?

I think my favorite moment in the song is the line “and I am guilty of the same,” when Elizabeth realizes she’s no better than Mr. Darcy.

What was the most difficult thing about writing this song?

I think I made this song more difficult for myself to write than I needed to. The second line of each verse has some unexpected notes and I found this line difficult to write an accompaniment for. It went through several versions, as did the song itself. I was lucky enough and grateful to have Laura Osnes record this song for me, and she helped me decide a few other melodic issues I was having as well. I wanted the listener to feel or at least empathize with what Elizabeth was going through. And I had in mind to make this the ‘hit’ stand alone song from the show (just a little more pressure on myself) so I wrote a more sweeping melody and a bigger overall feel for this song than most before it. I guess time will tell if I’ve succeeded there.

What else would you like us to know about this song?

I looked to the great dramatic power ballads as inspiration for this song. My hope is that, especially when orchestrated, it will be a powerful moment in the show and  be one of the (hopefully) many tunes that the audience will go out humming. I do reprise the song right after Mr. Darcy’s second, and more gentlemanly proposal. But this time, Elizabeth sings “Now I know my heart. Now I see what’s right before me.” And, of course, she answers “yes”!

Tell us what excites you most about contemporary musical theatre.

I guess what interests and excites me most in writing for the musical theatre of today is the challenge of creating fresh and new works while staying grounded in the foundations of the past. Appealing to today’s audience is always on this old-fashioned curmudgeon’s mind. There is certainly a lot more to draw from today…musical styles, story options, ways of telling a story…than there was 30 yrs. ago. The challenge is drawing from these myriad possibilities while still staying true to yourself.

What do you find to be most challenging about this business?

Trying to get one’s show produced is a daunting task, especially since, until recently, I’ve been doing it alone…one of the drawbacks of working without a collaborator. I’ve been lucky enough to have some major Broadway producers, theaters and directors look at the show, but so far, no bites. Part of the problem is the show’s size, and others feel that, with so many other Pride and Prejudice-based things out there, people wouldn’t come to a musical of it. Of course, they’re wrong, and my job is to prove that to them. I don’t think too many people in this business want to take chances, and I do understand that the financial part of things certainly comes into play. This isn’t an edgey, ground-breaking rock show. It’s a traditional, musical comedy. And I have to believe that there are people who still want to see this sort of musical.

What are you currently working on?

The show I’m currently working on, and which is almost finished, is called A Laughing Matter, a true story about a dentist who discovered anesthesia and then had to fight to be given the credit. He eventually became addicted to chloroform and with the help of his discovery, committed suicide in a jail cell. Ultimately, the show is about greed and its effects. It’s dark, but uses a combination of vaudeville, patriotic Americana, contemporary musical theatre and modern choral music to tell the story. I’ll have the American premiere of my Transitions, for piano, at Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall in November and I will also have a CD available for purchase on Amazon.com of my recently completed The Raven-Winged Hours, a sort of operatic scene based on some of Poe’s writings. I sing on this as well!

How can we keep track of what you’re up to?

You can find the latest news about what I’m doing, purchase a CD and sheet music, as well as hear excerpts of my work at http://www.lawrencerush.com/ and http://www.prideandprejudice-themusical.com/.

Listen to the song here.  For more information on the song, click here.

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Visit us again next week for our next five!

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Visit www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com for more information on over 180 contemporary musical theatre writers and 550+ songs, all searchable by voice and song type.

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